The office is now occupied by newly appointed Sgt. Michael Arbogast. At least it will be. The office is torn apart. The walls are bare, the desk has been dismantled, and Johnson stares at the back wall. “That’s where the smell was coming from,” he remarks in a puzzled tone. It doesn’t take long to identify the smell of a dead mouse, but all he’s found is a small glob of electrical tape. It was as if Johnson was trying to solve the last cold case from his not-too-distant past as sergeant. “He’s looking for Jimmy Hoffa,” says Det. Rich Werner.
“Oh well,” says Johnson. He walks to the bathroom to wash his hands. It’s budget season, and he’s got bigger fish to fry just now.
Back in his new office, Johnson explains that not much has changed in his first month as police chief. The department’s community-first policing policies that have worked for 35 years are in no need of reorganization. He still makes it to Morning Sing at Dover School every Friday morning to say hello to his pre-K to sixth grade buddies, and with a shortage of police officers, he still takes his turn doing patrol work.
Johnson took over as chief of the department on November 1, replacing 32-year chief Bobby Edwards, the man who hired him as a part-time officer back in 1982. Johnson served as Dover police sergeant for 25 years, and his understanding of the community and the valley, and his policing philosophy, made him a shoo-in for the job when Edwards announced his retirement. Along with Arbigast’s promotion to sergeant, officer David Hammock was named senior patrolman.
“I never thought of being the chief, I thought Bobby would always be in this seat,” said Johnson. “Being chief deals more with administrative work, and I’m getting used to that. We’re keeping things the way it is here, because it seems to be working. We have the community’s trust, they like that our officers are approachable to the community, and they know they can come in here and can talk to us whether we’re on or off duty.”
Johnson has been getting acclimated to his new duties thanks, he says, to his staff who are taking up what he calls “the smaller stuff” so he can focus on getting used to the new pile of administrative duties the position entails. His first challenge was creating the fiscal year 2015 budget, a task that he admits was easier then he imagined. Johnson is also now in charge of hiring, and began by bringing in two new part-time officers, and one new full-time officer to help fill the short-staffed department.
The type of community policing that Dover is known for is something Johnson has no intention of changing. “I like to try to try to figure out a solution to a potential problem before it exists or balloons out of control,” said Johnson. “It’s being a part of the community. You want to treat everyone in this valley as equals and I think people know it’s being fair, and knowing they can come and talk to us and be treated fairly regardless of their background, their income, or their status. If there’s a way to try to help someone without putting them through the court system, maybe getting them the help they need, gives them alternatives and it’s fair.”
Johnson also intends to continue services such as the department’s fake-ID training for bars and liquor stores. In a resort town, Johnson says this is an important step in knowing who’s coming into the valley.
Johnson’s father Chuck Johnson served as police chief of Dover in 1976, but was unable to continue in that role due to his son Tony’s battle with brain cancer. A senior in high school at the time, Johnson said that this played an early role in his own career choice. Thirty years later, Johnson says that the job can be tiring, and tragedy always makes the job a little tougher. But what keeps Johnson putting on the badge every day is the very basic part of the job, being the guy who gets to help.
“When you can help somebody out, there’s still a certain level of gratification,” said Johnson. “Really, in this job, you’re dealing with other people’s problems and you can get worn out. But part of the reward is the satisfaction that people can come to you when they need help.”